Interview: The Madden Brothers
Mon, 01 Dec 2014 16:11:20
Phil Spector Photos
The Madden Brothers Videos
Greetings from California comes to life as a rebirth. It's as if the Madden Brothers are peering through the wrapping paper of this musical gift and waving "Hello" for the very first time. The duo of Joel and Benji Madden nods to sun-soaked sixties pop through a haze poetic space folk that's immediately inviting and infectious. It's a collection that begs to be listened to from start-to-finish and deserves that intention. It's also one of the pair's finest efforts yet.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Joel Madden talks Greetings From California and so much more.
Greetings From California feels like a journey from top to bottom...
Wow, thank you! We worked on it for so long, and we were so alone in it. It was like three years. As simple as the record may seem, making the parts go together and finding the way to do that is always complicated. We were really trying to be creative and express ourselves while also making a good album. We’re pretty nostalgic guys. The only thing we can offer the world is albums though. That’s what we do.
How did you approach it?
When we started dreaming Greetings From California up, we knew we wanted to make an album that was a modern pop record in the sense of old pop records. It’s like if we could make a record in the way Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, or The Eagles did. We wanted to make an album that was an album and not an A&R’ed collection of singles. It had to be a musical piece that was interesting. We wanted all the songs to be unique. It was important that we approached this from an analog mind frame too. That was in our thinking. We knew we wanted to work with two producers. We had this dream of making a record where one side was with one producer and that could be the poppier side. Then, the second side would be a little more live and moodier. It was our dream to do that second side with Joe Chiccarelli and the first with Eric Valentine. Getting the producers was the first big challenge of the record. We had written some songs, and we sent them to the producers. They believed in the songs and the vision. They were really supportive, and that was a big win for us.
Did they see the vision instantly?
They did. When we said we were going to do The Madden Brothers, it was hard for people to imagine what that would sound like. Imagination was a big part of this. When I hand people a copy, I say, “Just use your imagination and hopefully you’ll enjoy the record”. I’ve been hand-delivering the record to a lot of people too. That was the vision. We wanted to create a two-sided album. We wanted to use old sounds that were familiar in a new, unique way, while still nostalgically paying tribute to the sounds we love. Music is the most important thing in our lives. It’s everything to us. We wanted to find a way to uniquely give a nod to those old sounds and recording processes. We wanted to hopefully create a modern record at the same time. For us, the craft of the album and songwriting were really important. Then, the overall arc of the idea of Greetings From California and the story you go through there is crucial. There are so many layers to the record.
What is that story? It feels very personal and universal at the same time.
For me, the story is one that sometimes gets lost in everyday entertainment and modern life. It’s the idea of the American dream. Anyone anywhere in our country can pick up a guitar, write a song, and it can change their life. That’s the American music dream. Now, with modern technology, any kid can get a computer and make song that can change his or her life. The old idea is still a new idea. American music is so special. Everyone has a chance. It’s an equal playing field. As much as the musical landscape changes over and over again, the old idea is still a new one. Some things will never change. People still want to hear honest, good songs. The album cover of Greetings From California tells one story. What is California even? It’s not on the album cover. It’s about the idea of California and the possibility it represents to people and to us—especially. It goes back to the time when we had nothing but a guitar in our hands and the cash in our pockets. We didn’t know anything else. We had some backpacks with literally all our belongings. We didn’t have a lot. We literally hitchhiked and caught rides. We made our way through the world with no education, way into the music business, or relationships with people in entertainment. We found our way with music by writing songs and believing in the dream. Then, we came out into the world and grew up in front of everyone and with them. We were following that dream and learning how to play music and be in the business. It’s been quite a journey. It’s unbelievable.
California itself becomes the dream.
Yes! We landed in California, and that’s the dream. We left home with this idea that if we could get to California, everything would be okay and better. There’s opportunity out there. That idea stems back to the Gold Rush, everybody moving West, and the movie business. There’s this idea of California as a promised land. To us as kids in Maryland, it really seemed that way. It’s a good thing to dream of. We landed in California ten years ago. We have a studio in Los Angeles we work in every day. Our dreams came true. That idea is the same thing. That theme comes through a lot of the songs and the mood of the album.
What’s the story behind “Empty Spirits”?
Benji and I wanted the last song on the album and Side 2 to be more of a singer-songwriter-y type of a track. We wanted to end the record with a very vulnerable, non-confronting simple moment. At first listen, it’s about a relationship. When the relationship’s gone, why does that song, which was so special, become such a painful piece that you don’t love it anymore? You actually resent it, and you don’t’ want to hear it. It brings up all kinds of emotions. Sometimes you hear it, and you’re happy. Other times you hear it, and you’re sad. It’s all because of this playlist you made in your relationship. It was an important playlist in the beginning of the relationship. I’ve had the experience in a good way. My brother has had it in a bad way.
It varies for everyone.
Songs become so meaningful based on our connections with people. Music has become so meaningful to my brother and I based on those connections. It’s also conflicting. We have such a profound effect on one another even when we don’t know each other as people. When you think about an intimate relationship you’re in, you and your partner have a profound effect on one another. In the bigger message, we have an effect on those we don’t know whether it’s through social media or just the world in general. Number one, it ends the record on a sensitive note with things to think about, but it also opens up our world for the next record of what we could do as The Madden Brothers. There’s a lot of possibility. What’s the next story? Where does “Empty Spirits” lead us? Where does the story go from here? How is the next album going to open?
Where did “Jealousy” come from?
We wanted to put something fun on the record. It’s a nod to our past because we’ve always been sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek about some things. It’s a way of laughing at the reality that sometimes we judge each other before we know each other. One-on-one people always tend to have a good experience. When groups of people get involved, the experience can change.
What music shaped you?
I always go back to The Beach Boys. I love The Eagles so much. I love The Beatles too. I love Bill Withers. I love Otis Redding. I love classic cars and classic music! For new music, there are so many records I like. I liked The Black Keys record this year. I like hearing well-made records.
Have you heard Greetings From California yet?